Maundy Thursday was a busy day.
In one regard, it’s the day when everything fell apart for Jesus. He lost everything. His disciples, his ministry, his safety. All gone.
We know the bigger picture. Jesus himself described this night as the hour for which he came. The time had come for him to be glorified… even though that didn’t look anything like what the people were expecting.
Let’s be honest: Who would’ve devised the cross as God’s way of salvation?
None of us. 1 Cor. 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Viewed from the inside, the gospel is full of power and beauty, but from the outside it’s confusing and even foolish. Why would God save people like that?!
In this way, the gospel is like the stained glass windows in a cathedral. When viewed from the inside they shine with beauty, portraying the message of the gospel; but from the outside they are dark, dull, and confusing.
Many of us want a theology of glory, not a theology of the cross. We want God on the centerstage, with the spotlight shining, highlighting all the ways that he’s amazing… and when we follow him then we join him on that stage. This theology of glory only sees suffering as a way for God to show his power for healing, rather than as the way God displays his goodness and beauty – even in the valley of the shadow of death. Our treasure is Christ, not the glory we receive because of him.
A theology of the cross leads us through Maundy Thursday, where we follow Jesus, even though it leads us to the cross.
That’s why Judas betrayed Jesus in Gethsamane and why the crowd chose Barrabbas. They wanted a revolutionary. Jesus wasn’t the Messiah he expected – or wanted. I think it’s helpful for us to remember everything we’ve read tonight and consider just how unexpected it was to those who experienced it.
Their hope was for the Messiah to restore Israel’s glory, kick out the Romans, and return Israel to the prominence and power they had under King David. This is why, just before Jesus ascended to heaven the apostles asked him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6). They expected a new conquest, like they had under Joshua. But the gospel is not a battle cry, it’s an invitation to find rest.
Jesus showed his power and worthiness, but he did so by experiencing death and defeating it from the inside-out. Rather than taking down the Romans he sent his disciples into the world… not with a sword, but with the cross – not to pursue a holy war, but to proclaim the gospel to those near and far.
Maundy Thursday was a busy day. Tonight’s readings remind us just how much happened on this day.
Jesus’ hour to be glorified had come, and it wasn’t what anyone expected. In a way, it’s appropriate for Maundy Thursday to fall on April Fool’s Day. Not for the sake of jokes about how Jesus fooled anyone by dying and resurrecting on Easter morning, but because the Gospel really is foolishness to those who don’t understand it.
Why would God save sinners by dying? Why wouldn’t Jesus choose to come and live and teach and die when it could be livestreamed for all people around the world to see his face and hear his voice and witness his resurrection? Why did God do it this way, relying on imperfect Christians to proclaim the gospel to friends and strangers, near and far?
Ultimately, I can’t really answer that… except to remind you that “to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” God’s ways are not our ways…
Although some may call it foolish, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.” (Rom. 1:17)
(note: this post is a manuscript from a sermonette for my church’s Maundy Thursday service and has been lightly edited)
- Summary (blog and podcast) of “Theology of Glory and Theology of the Cross“
- Book: On Being a Theologian of the Cross, by Gerhard Forde (don’t let the publication date or cover scare you away, this is a fantastic and understandable book)
- Youth Ministry seminar: On A Theology of the Cross: How we Theologically Misunderstand Our Kids (Cameron Cole, Rooted Conference 2017)